Sparking the connections
Veteran artist K. Thangarajoo’s resurgent career is all about moulding unity without demanding conformity.
VISUAL artist and educator, K. Thangarajoo, isn’t planning on a big 60th birthday bash later this year. He isn’t interested in slowing things down, either, especially since he is now taking on one of the busiest years in his long – yet largely underexposed – career in local art.
“I’m trying hard to keep up with myself and that’s a good thing at my age. I feel fortunate to have this forward momentum, this new energy,” says Thangarajoo, with a broad smile, during an interview at his studio in one of Petaling Jaya’s leafy suburbs.
He has a resurgent art career to focus on and he also teaches art (weekly) at two international schools in the Klang Valley.
“For the first time in my life, I’ve learned about routine! I enjoy teaching art to children, and that has given me so much satisfaction through the years. I have two art labs now. The idea of me exhibiting (solo) regularly is a new one, though,” he adds candidly.
“But that’s what I plan to do from now on. I’m rediscovering so much from my archives – the art, the ideas and the attitude.”
The bespectacled Thangarajoo is no average art teacher. He is an award-winning artist (picking up the Young Contemporaries award at the National Visual Arts Gallery in 1984) and was an active – rebellious – member of the Anak Alam (art) collective, joining it in 1974.
“I was the youngest in the group. I never really listened to anybody, but that was a given if you looked at all the independent thinkers in Anak Alam. Being the only Indian (member) was also not an issue, as there was a togetherness and a desire to change the art scene,” he recalls.
Interestingly, he fondly remembers doing theatre work – acting, pantomine, puppetry, and right through to handling stage lighting – during his early years.
“I acted in the Khalid Salleh’s Si Kebayan in 1980 (at Panggung Drama KL) and even did the lighting for Marion d’Cruz’s Solo. It was all about the life experiences gained outside of art.”
He also illustrated publisher Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka’s book, Tiki, Tiko And Tiku, which won the Best Children’s Book award prize at the National Book Fair in KL in 1984. In the past year, he reveals how he has reignited his love for storytelling and illustration, and his plans to release the book, Mr Black, which has a main character bent on colouring the world black.
An average day starts at 5am for Thangarajoo, and he keeps himself occupied mainly with art – sketching, drawing and painting.
However, Thangarajoo admits he cannot deny his outsider status, drifting in and out of the art scene.
“People have asked me where I’ve been in the last 40 years. Maybe, it’s because I’ve only had two solo exhibitions. Well, I have to say climbing up the (art) gallery food chain has never been a part of my (artistic) pursuit. I’ve always made art, all the time, on my own terms. That has never been an issue. There has been no break in this continuity,” he maintains.
Thangarajoo’s solo exhibitions include i, The Universe (1997) and The Pulse Of Creation (2016), with a portfolio dotted by several group shows.
Tellingly enough, his near-death experience in 1984, when he slipped and fell in a waterfall at Templer Park in Selangor, changed his life profoundly. Since then, the ideas of mortality, connectivity and unity of all life forms have shaped his art and way of thinking.
In the mid-1980s and 1990s, Thangarajoo started to move away from the usual abstract representations, and constructed a visual language packed with chaotic raw energy and cosmic rhythm. Whether inks or pencils, he creates pieces that seem to immerse viewers in an otherworldly cosmic space.
“Whatever medium he chooses, the viewer will recognise a certain spiritual tug in Thangarajoo’s art. He has dedicated his artistic life to show and celebrate the unity and interconnectedness of all things in the universe,” says independent curator Tan Sei Hon, who put together Thangarajoo’s third solo exhibition Atomic Consciousness, now showing at the National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) in KL.
Thangarajoo created 47 new mixed media works in Atomic Consciousness, which contains his ink drawings, alongside a short introduction of his career (a selection of early works from the 1980s).
For Thangarajoo, no matter how he looks back or goes forward, his works will always be placed at the intersection of art and science.
Importantly, he wants to distance himself from notions of mysticism and religion. Instead, his reference points seem to be science-based theories, and Atomic Consciousness, like his previous pieces, continues the artist’s fascination for matter, elements and atoms.
The spheres, pops, busy lines and dots and circles breaking off in all directions at NVAG’s Atomic Consciousness exhibition are a sight to behold. The show is nothing short of a signature K. Thangarajoo experience, where “the lines that divide also unite”, to paraphrase the artist.
“I’m not concerned if I leave out too much, or if the painting doesn’t have enough visual information. I paint what I feel inside. I want the viewer to travel with my drawings to another dimension,” he says.
Thangarajoo, who clearly isn’t holding up himself these days, has also started work on a large-scale abstract series commissioned by a major exhibition in KL in November.
“I haven’t got a name for these new works yet, but for certain, the colours will be back,” he promises.
Atomic Consciousness is on at the National Visual Arts Gallery, 2, Jalan Temerloh, off Jalan Tun Razak in KL till June 30. Al-Noor International School supported part of the show. The NVAG gallery reopens on Tuesday and is open daily (10am-6pm). Contact: 012-346 7872. FB: Joo Tha.
Thangarajoo has already started work on a new series at his studio in Petaling Jaya. It will feature some of his biggest works to date. — IBRAHIM MOHTAR/The Star
‘I paint what I feel inside. I want the viewer to travel with my drawings to another dimension,’ says Thangarajoo. His exhibition Atomic Consciousness, featuring 47 ink works, is showing now at the National Visual Arts Gallery in KL. — Photos: AZLINA ABDULLAH/The Star
A visitor taking a closer look at Thangarajoo’s detailed work in the Pulse Of Creation series (ink on canvas, 2015) at the Atomic Conciousness exhibition.
An early work from Thangarajoo called Anak-Anak Alam 7 (ink on paper, 1982).
Atomic Consciousness 32 (mixed media, 2017).